For me, watching Kobe Bryant play invokes some weird feelings. His style most resembles that of Michael Jordan, and if you were a Knick fan during the 90s then memories of Jordan are always a mixed bag. Although he was New York’s biggest nemesis, he used his ability on the court to transcend basketball and become a worldly icon. One minute he was flashing his million dollar smile in a commercial, the next he was ripping the hearts out of Knick fans.
As a basketball fan of the 80s & 90s, it’s hard to deny Jordan’s greatness. At his peak he was the closest thing to perfection on the basketball court; it seemed that he was the only one capable of stopping himself from winning a championship. So when I see Kobe Bryant who closely resembles Michael’s game, my instinct is to put them on the same level. And I’m not the only one.
“Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan… Kobe can do everything Michael did, and even a few things Michael couldn’t do. Kobe is just as good a defender. His killer instinct is just as pronounced. He can shoot, finish and explode. And just like Jordan, the more he’s pissed off, the more unstoppable he is.” —Jemele Hill, ESPN
“I played with both Kobe and Michael. I would have to say that Kobe Bryant is the better player. Kobe has a much better shot, handles the ball better, and just has more tricks to go along with his game. And just look at his career…he already has 3 rings and he’s going for his fourth this year.” — John Salley, former NBA player
“Kobe is arguably in the top 10 players of all time and is still in his prime. I dislike the guy and would find him hard to root for if he were a Knick, but he is the 2nd best all-around player in the league and singlehandedly would make just abut any current lottery team a playoff contender.” — Z-man, KnickerBlogger reader
“The more I watch Kobe Bryant rip through the NBA playoffs, the more drawn I become to the idea that he has become a little bit better basketball player than Michael Jordan. If you use your eyes, and you’re not wearing Jordan-colored sunglasses, you can see it.” — Anthony Wilson, Antwonomous.com
“I believe Kobe Bryant is a more talented offensive player than Michael Jordan. Looking at both players’ game film, Kobe is a better ball handler and plays much more comfortably on the perimeter than Jordan. Kobe also has better shooting range and a wider variety of moves compared to Jordan, who prefers to use mid-range game and post game.” — Ling Ge, Bleacher Report
While most of the quotes I chose were from people who thought that Bryant was a better player, it’s realistic to think that there’s a sizable percentage of fans that think Bryant is on the same level as Jordan. But is this true? Let’s compare their statistics at the same age.
Jordan vs. Kobe Scoring (per-36 minutes)
Player | Year | G | PER | TS% | eFG% | FGA | 3PA | 3P% | FTA | FT% | PTS Bryant | 2009 | 948 | 23.6 | .558 | .488 | 18.9 | 3.7 | .341 | 7.6 | .840 | 24.8 Jordan | 1993 | 667 | 29.8 | .589 | .526 | 21.8 | 1.3 | .301 | 8.4 | .846 | 30.0
Jordan vs. Kobe Non-Scoring (per-36 minutes)
Player | Year | ORB | DRB | TRB | AST | STL | BLK | TOV | PF Bryant | 2009 | 1.2 | 4.0 | 5.2 | 4.6 | 1.5 | 0.6 | 2.9 | 2.6 Jordan | 1993 | 1.6 | 4.3 | 5.9 | 5.5 | 2.5 | 1.0 | 2.8 | 2.7
Their games appear similar to the naked eye, but from these numbers it’s clear that Jordan was far superior to Bryant. As John Salley noted Bryant does have a better shot (especially from three), but Jordan’s superior interior game (including getting to the line) made him a more potent scorer. And Michael was a better all around player. Jordan was better in scoring efficiency (eFG%/TS%), scoring volume (pts/36), rebounding, steals, assists, and blocks.
Although Kobe is good in many areas, Jordan was flat out dominant. If you count all the seasons where a player averaged 30 pts/36 with a true shooting percentage over 58.9% (Jordan’s averages at Kobe’s age) since the 3-point era, you’ll find only 4 such seasons. Three belong to Jordan, and the fourth is Kiki Vandeweghe. Do the same with Kobe’s averages (24.8 pts/36, 55.8 ts%), and you’ll find 113 seasons. Kobe only has 4 of those seasons, while Jordan appears on that list 10 times.
The reason I bring this comparison up is to qualify the importance of statistics. Before looking up the numbers, my brain linked the two players because of their similar style of play. Granted there was always a section of grey matter that questioned their equality due to Bryant’s lack of a title as his team’s centerpiece. Because of their resemblances, my subconscious made a connection between the pair. This is known as “representativeness heuristic” where:
People tend to judge the probability of an event by finding a ‘comparable known’ event and assuming that the probabilities will be similar. As a part of creating meaning from what we experience, we need to classify things. If something does not fit exactly into a known category, we will approximate with the nearest class available.
In other words since Kobe plays like Jordan, and is similar enough to him, people attribute Jordan’s other attributes to Kobe. But in reality this is false. Bryant is a good player, but nowhere near Michael’s level. And without statistics that subtle but important difference may not be clear.